NEW YORK — The world’s oldest Roman Catholic bishop, who championed civil rights and encouraged women to take a more active role in the church, has died at age 104, church officials said Wednesday.
Peter Leo Gerety, who had served as head of the Archdiocese of Newark for 12 years and as the bishop of the Diocese of Portland in Maine from 1969-74, passed away Tuesday evening at the St. Joseph’s Home for the Elderly in Passaic County in New Jersey.
“His local church of Newark mourns a remarkable churchman whose love for the people of God was always strong and ever-growing,” Newark Archbishop John Myers said in a statement.
Funeral services have not yet been set.
Gerety, born in Shelton, Connecticut, was ordained to priesthood in 1939. His work included 27 years as a priest in his home state, where he devoted himself to the needs of black Catholics.
Gerety founded an interracial social and religious center in the 1950s and joined the civil rights movement the following decade.
In 1974, Pope Paul VI appointed Gerety as archbishop of Newark, a title he held until retirement. During his tenure in New Jersey, Gerety promoted equality for women in the church and asked parishes to appoint more women to leadership roles.
During his time in Maine, Gerety devoted himself to the social teaching of the church, particularly as it related to the vulnerable and marginalized, according to Bishop Robert P. Deeley of the Diocese of Portland. Under Gerety’s leadership, outreach to the poor and underserved increased through the expansion of Catholic Charities Maine into a statewide agency.
“He loved Maine, its priests, its people and its beauty, especially the waters of Casco Bay where he loved to sail, and Maine truly loved him,” Deeley said in a statement.
Gerety was predeceased by eight brothers and survived by numerous nieces and nephews.